Hammers are one of those tools that you can never seem to have enough of. Whether it is a body hammer or a carpentry hammer, there are so many different styles and sizes. It is easy to quickly amass a huge collection. Although I can guarantee that when you need to reach that tight pocket in a new tank design… you won’t have the right hammer. This month I am going to talk about Blocking Hammers.
In the art of metal shaping, Blocking can be considered a first step. Usually there are three phases to shaping a piece of metal; Blocking, Shrinking and Planishing. Each phase is very distinct and have specific tools to work with. The first phase, Blocking, is defining the basic shape and form of your piece. This usually means taking a rather large mallet and beating the shit out your panel. Although the practice of Blocking might look random… you better have a plan. If not, you might end up with a mess. Strategic strikes in the panel will help you advance the shape quickly and start defining areas that you will need to shrink.
While a mallet is a hammer, a mallet does not have a steel head. Knowing what hammer or mallet to use is key. Some hammers will move metal quickly, but might be to much to use with aluminum or copper. Another hammer might be great for softer material, but your arm will fall off before you start getting any shape in steel.
So I have put together a list of pros and cons that might help you decide what to use. I have ranked these in order of my personal preference.
Pros: Available in a wide variety of materials. Something like “Lignum vitae” makes an awesome mallet. The wood is so dense it will sink in water. Wooden mallets are usually inexpensive and you can shape them very easily. You can also find them with lead centers for added weight.
Cons: You need to match up the material of the mallet with the material of your panel. A Hickory head will be great for soft material or light detailing. Some softer mallets will scar easily, which can transfer to your panel.
Pros: You can move some metal very fast with a steel Blocking hammer. It is easy make one using an old cap from a welding tank.
Cons: You can move some metal very fast with a steel Blocking hammer. They are usually expensive and not available in a wide variety of shapes. Some can be heavy and tiring to use for long periods of time.
Pros: Available in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. They are easy to re-shape and modify. Basic shapes like a barrel is easy to find and inexpensive. Good for detail Blocking in a steel panel. Most mallets are very light. They are available with lead centers.
Cons: Specialty shapes can be hard to find and expensive. Not very good for initial Blocking. They move metal slowly.
Hopefully this will give you an idea on what to look for when you are getting ready to buy another hammer or beat on a panel.